"Delightful." Thus spoke Kim Reynolds, our handling and ride quality guru, when I asked him how Fiat's ballsy little FIAT 500
was to drive around our patented figure eight. Mr. Reynolds' seal of approval is high praise indeed for the diminutive newcomer, as I've seen Kim yawning while climbing out of ultracars worth several hundred thousand dollars. No, really. So why the big love for such a tiny car? Well, in a teensy-weensy Italian nutshell, the FIAT 500
Technically speaking, the FIAT 500
fits into the A-segment, along with cars like the Smart Fortwo
and the upcoming Toyota Iq
. But the Fiat's much bigger than the Smart
and close to within half a foot of a Mini Cooper
in most dimensions, even though the latter rates as a B-segment player. Here's the thing: From the driver's seat, you'd never know just how small the new FIAT CINQUECENTO
is. I'm 5'11" and in the sunroof-less Sport edition FIAT 500
we tossed around for the weekend, I had space galore. However, Fiat 500
s with glass panels up top have much less headroom. Back to the steel roofer: We had a 6 foot, 6-inch valet at our hotel in San Diego sit in the 500, and he proclaimed, "I have more room in here than a CTS." Ooh, Cadillac, burn! I found the rear Seat
tight on headroom, but somehow (let's say by magic) pretty good on legroom. Here's hoping that if you get stuffed in the rear you have someone to snuggle with, i.e., you don't have to sit up straight.
With only 1.4 liters underfoot, I was expecting the worst. I figured the Fiat 500
would be able to quickly dart around town, but suck wind at speed while buzzing like a TMZ editorial meeting. Guess what? At freeway speeds of 80, 85, and 90 mph, not only wasn't the FIAT 500
struggling, but it was calmly cruising. The tach was just above 3,000 rpm; tire and wind noise were low; and the engine felt -- dare I say this? -- refined. Again, I was expecting a hive of angry bees to loudly fizz through the firewall, and instead I was treated to relaxed smoothness. Up a 5-percent grade in top gear (fifth in our manual equipped car; the Lounge models sport six-speed automatics), I was able to just tap a little further down on the throttle and Fiat's novel MultiAir four-banger easily maintained 80 miles per hour.